The soccer world Tuesday mourned the deaths of almost all the members of Brazil’s Chapecoense professional team in an airplane crash near Medellin, Colombia, that killed at least 75 people.
The Bolivia-based LaMia airline charter flight with 72 passengers and nine crew members on board crashed at about 10 p.m. local time Monday as it was preparing to land at Jose Maria Cordova International Airport in Rionegro, a Medellin suburb.
Among the dead were 19 of the 22 Chapecoense team members. Defenders Alan Ruschel and Helio Zampier, known as “Neto,” and goalie Jakson Follmann reportedly were listed in critical condition at local hospitals.
"This is a very, very sad day for football," Gianni Infantino, president of world soccer’s governing body FIFA, said in a statement. "We are so sorry to hear about the airplane crash in Colombia, it is shocking and tragic news. At this difficult time our thoughts are with the victims, their families and friends.”
The soccer star known as Neymar, of Brazil’s national team, said over social media that he was in a state of disbelief.
“Cannot believe this tragedy, impossible to believe it happened, impossible to believe that the plane crashed, impossible to believe that athletes, humans were on that plane, impossible to believe that these people left their families.…Today the world mourns, but the sky is happy to receive Champions. "
The team, hailing from Chapeco in Santa Catarina state, was scheduled to arrive in Colombia to play this week in the Copa Sudamericana tournament against Medellin’s Atletico Nacional squad.
The Brazilian players were a long-shot Cinderella team that put together a winning season despite meager resources and facilities. During the all-day travel Monday, several players in ebullient spirits sent videos to fans over social media.
There were conflicting media reports about what might have caused the crash of the four-engine British Aerospace 146 jet. On approach, the pilot reportedly informed the Cordova airport control tower of electrical problems. Poor weather conditions may also have been a factor or possibly a fuel shortage, according to an official interviewed on national television.
Local press photos of the crash scene indicated that the aircraft plowed through a forested area but that it did not explode or catch fire.
Hampered by heavy rain, fog and poor roads, rescuers reported difficulties in reaching the crash site in the La Union township about 10 miles from the Cordova airport. More than 150 rescuers managed to reach the scene and within hours take six survivors to nearby hospitals in La Ceja and Rionegro.